I spent the afternoon in Coventry for the first day of the 888casino Champion of Champions and was impressed by what I saw.
The venue is big and lively and a huge effort has been put into making this new tournament something special, from the set to the new dress code – normal ties replacing bowties to give it a distinctive look.
With one table and the world’s best, it already feels like a prestigious event. Crowds were pretty good overall and there was some interesting snooker played.
John Higgins had a great chance to beat Stephen Maguire 4-2 but admitted that he had felt the pressure in the sixth frame. Higgins, as so often throughout his career, has been chopping and changing cues and techniques and seems to have put himself in a position where he lacks confidence in the basics of his game.
Maguire was surprised to win but delighted also. I suspect he spoke for many of the top 16 afterwards with his comments about the event when I asked him if it was nice to have a tournament just for the elite.
He said: “The set-up is different class compared to what we’re used to now. A few years ago we were used to that but we went backwards, or the top 16 did anyway.
“It’s nice to be rewarded with a nice arena. I’d like more of them. Get the top 16 boys playing in big tournaments like this.”
Not everyone will agree with Maguire’s comments but I know what he means. At times the ‘pro fairness’ agenda sounds like anti-excellence. Everyone has the same chance to climb the rankings and win titles. The sport’s champions deserve to be feted.
Meanwhile, the moaning and groaning about Shaun Murphy’s inclusion ended on the first afternoon when he was beaten 4-2 by Mark Selby.
It says a lot about Selby’s commitment to the game that, having arrived home at 5.30am after winning in Antwerp on Sunday night, he went to practice for two hours yesterday wearing a tie because he had never played snooker in one before.
This is how champions are made: by going the extra mile. It would have been much easier to catch up on sleep – and most would have – but Selby wanted that edge for the week.
One last thing, and this is something I haven’t written much about in the past because of (accurate) accusations of bias, but having listened to him commentating all day, what were the BBC thinking when they dropped Clive Everton from their commentary team?
Nobody has ever so expertly combined snooker knowledge and use of language. The skill of any great broadcaster is as much knowing when not to speak as what is actually said on air.
Combined with the excellent Neal Foulds and Alan McManus, Clive’s presence lends the event gravitas and makes ITV4’s coverage a really good watch.
It should be a really absorbing week’s snooker.